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What You Should Know About Venezuela

Venezuela was the world’s largest oil exporter before socialists took over.

By:  |  May 11, 2020  |    508 Words

Frederic Edwin Church’s Palms in the Amazon Jungle of Venezuela, 1860. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Venezuela, the nation located at the northern tip of South America, has a long history of military takeovers and economic and political restarts. Long before it turned into a humanitarian crisis, Venezuela was a reasonably wealthy country due to its vast crude oil reserves. But cycles of authoritarian governments and multiple cases of corruption at the top have limited its success.

A Nation is Born

For about 300 years, Venezuela was ruled by the Spanish Empire. In the early-19th century, Venezuelans took advantage of Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Spain and started the War of Independence. After beating the Spanish Army, Venezuela became a part of the Republic of Gran Colombia. Several years later, Venezuela seceded and officially formed its independent republic.


Color illustration (by Hendrik Hondius) shows Venezuela, 1630. (Photo by Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

Venezuela was a thriving state under several military leaders. It attracted foreign investment, developed agriculture and education, and modernized infrastructure. Years later, it would become the world’s largest oil exporter. Due to a handful of coups in the mid-20th century, the country finally imposed a civilian government, adopted a constitution, and elected the National Assembly (the president and lawmakers).

In 1992, then-Colonel Hugo Chavez initiated two unsuccessful coup attempts against President Carlos Andres Perez. As Chavez was imprisoned, Perez faced corruption charges and impeachment. In 1998, Chavez was elected president and transformed society, including the redistribution of land and wealth.

Under his brand of democratic-socialism, Chavez would nationalize energy and telecommunications, ban the media from criticizing the government, eliminate large estates, and introduce price controls and production quotas. He was also accused of electoral fraud. Chavez died in March 2013. Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s chosen successor, was elected president a month later, but the opposition claimed the process was rigged. For six years, the country’s economic, political, and social infrastructure would collapse under Maduro’s leadership.

Life in Venezuela

Today, many Venezuelans are living in extreme poverty as the nation is faced with a humanitarian crisis. Life is so bad in Venezuela that the average person lost about 20 pounds in 2018. Rations, long lineups, and a totalitarian regime – life in Venezuela is a tragedy.

An Enemy of the US?

President Maduro announced in January 2019 that he would be severing ties with the U.S. after President Donald Trump recognized Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela. Officials expelled U.S. diplomats and removed any American presence inside the Latin American state. Washington established a Venezuela Affairs Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia that acts as a temporary diplomatic office to Venezuela.

What Now?

The U.S. government has declared its intention to work with Venezuela as long as Maduro organizes elections by March 2021 and removes himself from the democratic process. In exchange, the U.S. has offered to eliminate sanctions and expand humanitarian aid throughout its health emergency. Relations were complicated when Maduro captured 13 mercenaries and accused the U.S. and Colombia of plotting to overthrow his regime. What happens next is anybody’s guess.

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